Posted by: Tommy | February 11, 2011

Cape Town’s Best Restaurant by guest blogger Anita Powell

While this is undoubtedly the pinnacle (to date) of Anita’s writing career, you may have read her work in some less reputable places like the Austin American Statesman, the Stars and Stripes or various world newspapers as a correspondent for the Associated Press.  She lives in Jo’burg, editing for the AP and is married to my friend Johnson.  He’s in Austin, finishing his Phd (finally – we started college together…12 years ago) but Anita made the trip out to Cape Town for a long weekend with us.  Anna enjoyed having a wine-drinking partner, I enjoyed having a competent navigator (in the form of the GPS Anita brought with her) and we all had a great time.

CAPE TOWN’S BEST RESTAURANT

I went to Cape Town with an assignment from my mother-in-law: to take Tommy and Anna out for a nice meal.

An easy assignment, really, as Cape Town is reputed to have the best restaurants on the continent. Unfortunately, many of them also come with a free side of pretension. I turn up my nose at you, Belthazar, with your one-letter-off misspelling and your refusal to let nice people sit on your patio on a quiet afternoon and sample one of the 250 wines by the glass of which you are so proud. Nobu,  I’m sure you are fantastic, but I’ll go to the original, thanks. And Rueben, I’m sure you’re lovely too, but worth driving over a mountain? Not so sure.

Nothing but the best would do. Which is how we found ourselves in a long, dark corridor – sandwiched between a tattoo parlor and a cheap fish-and-chip shop – with our fate in the hands of a small, imperious Japanese woman.

I am of course talking about Minato, a tiny, ornery restaurant that has a cult following for having Cape Town’s best sushi. But that is certainly nowhere reflected in the décor. The atmosphere in the 35-seat restaurant is inversely proportional to the food. I could say the setting has character but that would be generous. The décor is best described as “basement karaoke bar.” It’s dark where you don’t want it to be (hello, bathrooms) and too bright everywhere else (you could perform surgery in the dining room).

And there are rules. Oh, there are rules. The walls are plastered with hand-written signs informing you of the rigid code that governs the restaurant.

First rule: You do not talk about Minato.

(Kidding.)

But seriously: They do not take debit cards. They do not serve dessert, so don’t think of asking. You must reserve or you will not get a seat (the sign rather cruelly adds, “Ha ha ha.”) They will not take your order piecemeal –you are firmly instructed to order all at once, and then “RELAX.” Relax, dammit!

Posing Japanese

(In your head, make this ha-ha-ha laughter sound maniacal)

I think Tommy and Anna were a bit alarmed when the waitress marched over, slammed down a plate of wasabi and demanded our entire order. Probably the last time Tommy made that face was when his calculus teacher announced a pop quiz.

But we got through it, and were richly rewarded. The house “special fried roll” consists of a slab of tuna, a slab of salmon and a hunk of avocado, bound by seaweed (no rice) and tempura-fried. Words cannot convey how delicious that is. Another favourite of mine is the “special crying inside out roll,” distinguished by its bright green rice (mixed with wasabi). Tommy also ordered and was rewarded with the Mexican roll, which was not really Mexican but delicious. I had the fantastic San Diego roll, which featured tempura avocado. And Anna chose the classic tuna and ginger roll, which was delicious in its simplicity.

There’s really not much more to say. We demolished it and loved it. Minato: go.

I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so!

On the rare occasions that I come across a copy of the New Yorker, I invariably think to myself, “this magazine would be so much better with recipes.” The same could be said about this blog post. I am not Frank Bruni, so let me throw a bit of Mark Bittman at you to atone for that.

Here is a simple recipe for tempura. Easy, cheap, and a great option when you have extra vegetables around and you don’t know what to do with them. I’ll also include a recipe for a dipping sauce.

I know it sounds involved but almost all of these ingredients are each less than $1, or easy to find or borrow. Also, it feeds a crowd …

INGREDIENTS:

Tempura batter:

100g cornstarch (about 8 tablespoons?)

50g flour (about 4 tablespoons)

One egg

150ml ice water (less than a cup, or five shots, if you want to be exact)

Salt

Cheap cooking oil – canola or sunflower

Dipping sauce:

Few drops sesame oil if you have it

2T soy sauce

2T sweet soy sauce (called kecap manis) I guess you could substitute with a bit of honey or molasses?

2T sushi vinegar

Big pinch of Japanese sansho pepper mix, if you have it.

2T chopped spring onion

OR make katsu sauce  by mixing ketchup, worchestershire sauce and soy sauce in descending quantities. I guess you could also find a pre-made sauce of some kind: sweet Thai chilli sauce would be good.

Delicious things to fry:

Potatoes or sweet potatoes, sliced into discs

Carrot sticks

Broccoli florets

Whole mushrooms

Asparagus spears

Whole baby onions

Tofu, cubed

Avocado, cut into spears. Ideally should be not quite ripe.

Baby cabbage, cut into wedges

Brussels sprouts, cut in half

Baby corn

Fresh jalapenos? That might be delicious. Cut in half lengthwise and de-seed.

PROCEDURE:

Don’t let that long list scare you. This is really easy.

Mix up one of the sauces and prep the vegetables.

First fill a deep saucepan or wok with about an inch of oil and put over heat. It should take about 5-10 minutes to heat up.

Cover a plate with a paper towel and set next to the frying pan. Find tongs or a slotted spoon.

In a bowl, mix the batter loosely and roughly. You actually want lumpy batter, and it’s fine to have ice cubes in the batter at first. The batter should be a bit runny.

Dip your vegetables in the batter to coat, and drop into the oil. Let it fry for about 2 minutes, or until the item floats. Remove with tongs/slotted spoon and put on top of the paper-towel plate.

Repeat until you have a plate of crunchy deliciousness.

Mmmmmm

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Responses

  1. I enjoyed Anita’s writing as much as Anna’s and Tommy’s. My haiku to Anita:

    African or American: wit, humor and info.
    Rules followed, sushi satisfies.
    Wining with Anna wins all the time.

    Looks like y’all had a fun time. Will there be any guest blog opportunities in Australia?

  2. Anita’s writing made me laugh and I felt like I was there. You inspired Jerry to write a haiku – that alone warrants high praise.

    What a great choice! Definitely not pretentious. Anna taught me to love sushi – I would definitely seek that out if I was there. Really wish I was. Anna and Tommy look great in the picture outside the restaurant. In the others I was just drooling over the food.

    The recipe was a nice touch. And they are so lucky to have Anita come up to see them and spend time with them. That is gong to be a special memory of Africa.

    Love to all!

  3. […] really was a great introduction to the single best food city of the trip. Sushi in Cape Town with Anita – hilarious menu, delicious […]


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